Catania, A. Charles Department of Psychology, University of Maryland, Baltimore, Maryland.
Last reviewed:August 2019
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- Reinforcers and punishers
- Discriminative or occasion-setting stimuli
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Learning based upon the consequences of behavior. Instrumental conditioning, also referred to as operant conditioning, is a method of learning wherein behavior is altered by the effects (either positive or negative) of the resulting consequences. For example, a rat may learn to press a lever when this action produces food (see illustration). Thus, instrumental or operant behavior is the behavior by which an organism changes its environment. The particular instances of behavior that produce consequences are called responses. Classes of responses having characteristic consequences are called operant classes; responses in an operant class operate on (act upon) the environment. For example, a rat's lever-press responses may include pressing with the left or with the right paw, sitting on the lever, and so on, but all these taken together constitute the operant class called lever pressing. Another type of conditioning, called classical conditioning, occurs when a stimulus automatically triggers an involuntary response. See also: Cognition; Conditioned reflex; Information processing (psychology); Learning; Psychology
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